DISCOVER BHUTAN: Zorig Chusum, Thirteen Traditional Arts & Crafts of Bhutan

Zorig Chusum, which translates to ‘thirteen traditional arts and crafts’, is a classification of Bhutan’s distinct arts and crafts into thirteen main domains, encompassing a diverse range of crafts and artistic expressions.

The thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan are: yigzo (calligraphy), lhazo (painting), parzo (carving), jinzo (sculpture), lugzo (metal casting), troezo (silver and gold smithing), tshemzo (tailoring and tapestry), shingzo (carpentry), thagzo (weaving), delzo (papermaking), tsharzo (bamboo craft), garzo (blacksmithing), and dozo (masonry).

Bhutan’s fourth Druk Desi (secular ruler) institutionalized Zorig Chusum as a formal curriculum of monastic education in the 17th century. Since then, these arts and crafts have been a significant part of Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage.

Yigzo or calligraphy is an art practiced predominantly by monastic scholars, monks and nuns to create scriptures. 

Lhazo or painting is the art of painting intricate Buddhist figures and themes. From mastering iconographic measurements to creating complex depictions of deities, these artists play a pivotal role in preserving Bhutan’s spiritual and cultural narratives.

Parzo or carving includes carvings on metals like copper, bronze, silver, and gold and carvings on wood and stone.

Jinzo or clay sculpture is the art of creating religious icons and symbols from clay.

Lugzo or the art of metal casting employs ancient lost-wax technology to craft bronze sculptures, reflecting Bhutan’s historical metallurgical expertise and artistic finesse.

Troezo or silver and gold smithery is a refined tradition where artisans create intricate religious figures, ritual artifacts, jewelry, and household items, incorporating religious and cultural motifs that are distinctly Bhutanese.

Tshemzo or tailoring encompasses a spectrum of skills, from basic tailoring to specialized embroidery and appliqué techniques. 

Shingzo or carpentry is a craft that involves wood works and woodturning.

Thagzo or weaving is predominantly a female-led craft, with artisans weaving diverse textiles from wool, yak hair, silk, cotton, and plant fibers. 

Delzo or paper-making is an ancient craft of making paper using Daphne and Edgeworthia plants. 

Tsharzo or bamboo craft is widely practiced, producing a wide range of essential household items such as containers, baskets, strainers, and mats among others. 

Garzo or blacksmithery is the craft of producing a range of household items, farming tools, and religious artifacts with metal. 

Dozo or masonry is a common craft practiced across the country. Bhutanese masons are known for building huge, towering structures that have endured for centuries. 

While Zorig Chusum was predominantly part of the monastic education, the art and crafts have also been embraced by the lay population. In fact, they are incorporated into all aspects of Bhutanese society. Recognizing the significance of Zorig Chusum, the government and various cultural organizations are actively promoting and preserving these traditional arts and crafts. 

The Institute of Zorig Chusum was established in 1971 to preserve and promote these arts and crafts and also to create skills based employment opportunities for Bhutanese youth. Another Institute was established in eastern Bhutan in 1997. 

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